Potluck Supper

The annual Potluck Exhibit Social was Mrs. Rose Marie Charlotte Pelman's time to shine. But for her husband, Roy? Not so much.

This story riginally appeared in the January/February 1987 Mensa Bulletin and was reprised in Great Minds Think and Write: 50 Years of the Mensa Bulletin. Order a copy today.

Mr. and Mrs. Roy Pelman were an ideal average couple of “typical Americans,” everybody said. They lived on a family street in a small town. Which town? Any town, in any state of the Union will do.

Potluck Supper IllustrationMrs. Pelman’s name was Rose Marie Charlotte Pelman, but to everyone both great and small she was known as Rosie. If Roy had called her Rose, it would have made him uncomfortable, as though he wouldn’t feel free to pinch or pat her behind as he passed her, which he inevitably did. Rosie had developed callouses, not on her behind, but on her mind in regard to this playful pastime. When the pinches and pats were too hard, she clamped her emotional and mental reaction quickly to numbness, so that she would never, ever recognize the vicious antagonism underlying the action.

The pinches and pats made Roy feel very masculine and superior. He liked to kid the little woman. It was very satisfying to him. He never thought, never wondered, about the short flashes of a kind of longing sadness that sometimes followed his satisfaction. He just rubbed his hands, hurried for another beer, and went out on the porch.

Roy saw a lot of his pals, the guys he worked with at the plant. When five o’clock came, they all went home to have dinners of roast beef or pork chops, with lots of potatoes and gravy, biscuits or cornbread . . . all homemade and still hot, of course. The salad and vegetables they ignored. The wives ate them next day for lunch, which kept them in great condition! The meals ended with homemade pie or cake. Roy and his friends usually had two, and sometimes three, generous helpings.

After supper, Roy joined his pals for the evening at the beer bar on Second Street. Or they went bowling, or watched the fights together.

Roy used to brag about Rosie’s cooking. He would pat his pot and say, “Rosie sure is one good cook; she sets a mighty fine table. If she didn’t, I’d divorce her in a minute!” All his friends laughed loudly each time.

Rosie did exquisite handiwork. All her friends in the Circle said she did the best stitchery in the whole world, bar none. They said even the French embroidery from “Parisfrance” wasn’t near as good as Rosie’s. They always said Parisfrance as one word. When her friends said this, Rosie looked down blushing and smoothed her skirt in embarrassment, although she agreed with them fully.

They didn’t blow the whistle at 7:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. at the plant, like they used to when Roy was young. Now they had that damned punch-in and punch-out gadget. He hated having to punch in each morning, as he would have preferred having a leisurely third cup of coffee to sort of settle the hot-seasoned sausage, three eggs and innumerable hot biscuits with gravy he loved for breakfast every morning. “By damn, that Rosie is a good cook.” He pinched her behind as an accolade as he reached for his large, black lunchkit and went out, leaving the screen door to slam and vibrate.

After the door and her nerves quit vibrating, Rosie quickly poured her first cup of coffee and retired to the large, overstuffed armchair by the TV to catch up on the news. Rosie was hooked on what was happening all over the world. The only trouble was, she had no one to talk to about it. If she asked Roy what he thought about the happenings in the Mid-East, he said, “What the hell do I care what them fools do?” and went bowling a little early.

All the women in Rosie’s Circle were planning on the Annual Potluck Supper next Friday night at the church basement. The item concerning it had been in last week’s local paper. It told how entertaining and successful last year’s potluck and exhibit of handiwork had been and prophesied that this year the event would be even more scintillating! The whole town was invited.…

Rosie and her friends all became narrow-eyed and tense trying to plan a casserole dish to outdo everyone else. Rosie could feel the concentrated envy and jealousy of her friends, because every year all the husbands of Rosie’s friends swore Rosie’s casserole was to hell and gone the best food ever moggled up in any kitchen in Ferthen County. It was, too.

Rosie sometimes thought wickedly of making a cordon bleu dish with exotic things such as capers or marrons in it, and she chuckled to think of the expression on Roy’s face if she did. In the end, sober reason won out and she would make a rich concoction of potato, succulent beef, onion, her secret spices and heavy yellow cream; or she would bake a large turkey with orange and peach sauce, from which she removed any vestiges of orange or peach, so no one would know her “touch” with a turkey.

She would have given anything to have a French cookbook, but if she asked Roy for money for it, she would never hear the last of it. She clipped recipes from The Ladies’ Home Journal and secretly made and ate them at lunch, when she could find the ingredients.

Once she made a burnt sugar sauce for pound cake. When Roy came in he said, “What’s the funny smell?” She hurriedly replied that she had accidentally dropped sugar on the stove when she made the pound cake but had gotten it off before it burned too badly. Roy said she should watch it because sugar didn’t grow on trees. She had to carefully curb a smile as she thought, “Maple sugar does!” Roy didn’t appreciate humor from her. He loved the ice cream, topped by caramel sauce with walnuts, she served on the pound cake.

Rosie and Roy got dressed in their best and prepared to attend the Potluck Exhibit Social.

Rosie’s ornate handiwork was already on the walls and display tables at the church. Elva May said to the other ladies making the display, “For God’s sake, scatter Rosie’s stuff out or nobody’ll look at nothin’ else!” So they tried to soft-pedal Rosie’s skill, but with no real success.

Before Roy lifted the large-size, handled casserole dish to put it carefully on the back seat of the car, propped by cushions, he peeped under the lid. A lightly browned, rough-surfaced top came to view, with little wisps of steam escaping here and there. Ambrosial odors rode these feathers of steam. Roy’s stomach rumbled with anticipation. Rosie clamped the lid back on, to preserve the essences inside, and they were off.

* * *

The church basement was teeming with townsfolk, quilts, children, and food. It was very loud, with lots of back-slapping and insulting compliments. Rosie could never understand why it made her feel sad, and frightened, and full of longing. Almost as bad as when she thought about not having a child to love and wonder at. No one knew she felt this, and she entered into the festivities with enthusiasm.

Finally, all were served and seated at the long, decorated tables, and grace was said by Pastor Ludlow. The eating began with gusto; even the children were quiet momentarily while filling empty little stomachs, tired of waiting till after grace.

Gradually the talk resumed as eating slowed. Ed Rowe, from the other end of the table called down to Roy, “Hey, Roy, how do you like the new shredder at the plant? Any good?”

Roy started to reply, but instead, he slowly, ponderously, fell straight forward into his plate. Like a straight stick into a mud puddle. Later Rosie would think that it was the only time Roy was truly dignified.

But now she whispered urgently, “Roy! Sit up, everyone is looking!” Roy lay like a rock, his face firmly ensconced in his third helping of mashed potatoes and gravy. Gravy welled up and ran down in little trickles over the potato, which was highly entertaining to the little red-haired, freckled boy across the table.

Roy was completely and unskillfully dead.

The ladies led Rosie away to lie down, while someone called the doctor? The ambulance? The mortuary? Finally, in desperation, they called all three.

Rosie wondered fleetingly why her head felt so hot while the rest of her was so icy cold. They were helping her to the room with the cot and making soothing, consoling sounds. As Rosie lay down, she carefully turned her face to the wall to hide the surging, all-encompassing flood of blessed relief and freedom she felt in every atom of her body. Her heart sang, “I’m free, free, free!”

In the following years, there was so much talk about this event that it nearly caused an atmospheric curtain to change the normal weather conditions. Up to, and after, the potluck might have dimmed into time and been forgotten but for the unforgivable things Rosie did almost immediately following the funeral.

She sold the house and everything in it, moved to New York, changed her name to Rose Charlotte (that’s all, just Rose Charlotte), and did exquisite hand-sewing for famous designers. Her bead and rhinestone work were world-famous, and finally she moved to Parisfrance to be more available to Dior, Chanel and other top couturier houses. Her Circle never forgave her, and every time the ladies thought of her, they were stomach sick. This recurring nausea prevailed, even into old age.